Phillip: Exorcist & Teleporter
We’re going to dip back into the New Testament this week with Acts chapter 8. We’ll be looking at a couple of moments during Phillip’s ministry. We’re picking up his story at a time when persecution is especially intense. Stephen has just been stoned to death and Saul is dragging as many believers to prison as he can. The Christians of Jerusalem have scattered as a result, but they carry the gospel with them. In the midst of all this, we find Phillip.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
1. What do we know about Samaria? (Lots of conflict between Jews and Samaritans; Jesus made a point to cut through there instead of avoiding it like many did.)
2. What sorts of signs is Phillip performing there?
3. How does scripture describe it? (Shrieks indicate extremely reluctant and entrenched spirits.)
4. Even with today’s advancements in medicine and technology, how easy is it to reverse paralysis?
5. What does this tell us about Phillip and his relationship with God?
Things are already pretty weird and extreme as Phillip makes his way south. Let’s skip down to verse 26.
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Here we see an angel of the Lord telling Phillip to head down from Samaria into Jerusalem, the rival city of Samaria, and from there take the desert road even farther south toward Gaza.
6. What else does the angel say? (Nothing. That’s all Phillip knows. He’s just operating on faith.)
7. And remind us what’s happening in Jerusalem. (Persecution. Jews against Christians. Phillip is heading out of the frying pan and into the fire.)
8. What does Phillip say to this direction? (Nothing. He just obeys.)
9. Who does he meet along the way?
This dignitary from Ethiopia oversees the queen’s treasury. He’s likely dressed beautifully, and the chariot is probably of the highest quality – maybe decorated with gold and expensive fabrics on the inside. He’s also probably of a much darker complexion than most people in the area, so he’d stand out quite a bit for multiple reasons. And then we have Phillip in contrast, a commoner with dust and sand from his travels puffing off his robes.
10. What does the Holy Spirit tell Phillip to do?
11. And what does Phillip do in verse 30? (He RUNS. There’s no hesitation. In fact, he seems pretty excited.)
Verses 27 and 28 tell us this man had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was trying to study the book of Isaiah. This is a seeker who apparently didn’t find many of the answers he was looking for. That’s concerning considering Jerusalem was the seat of religious leadership. Part of the issue could’ve been his being denied access to the temple and certain resources due to being a Gentile and possibly mutilated (Eunuch is a title; it doesn’t always mean castration.) If he couldn’t find God in Jerusalem, where could he?
Now put yourself in this guy’s shoes. You’re a foreigner. You’re of a higher class than most. You’re absorbed in studying a religion that isn’t native to your culture or homeland. And then some random peasant comes running up to your chariot and asks if you understand what you’re reading.
12. What might your natural response be to that? (Surprise, insult, anger, confusion, etc.)
13. How does he respond in verse 31?
14. What do you make of that?
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”  [c] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
God brings this unlikely pair together and Phillip answers the Eunuch’s questions and leads him to Christ. But it gets even stranger.
15. What road are they travelling on? (The desert road)
16. And what do they find along the road? (Enough water for both of them to get in and have a baptism. This could’ve been some kind of well or pond or something, but the timing and placement was definitely divinely orchestrated.)
17. What would you expect to happen next? (Maybe Phillip goes with the official to Gaza and evangelizes there? Maybe the eunuch gives up his privileged lifestyle to serve alongside Phillip?)
Let’s read what actually happens in verses 39-40:
39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
18. We’ve just switched genres from period piece to sci-fi all of a sudden. Who would’ve seen teleportation coming?
Azotus, where Phillip appears, is about 30 miles away from Gaza, so this is a significant distance. The Greek translation of “taking” or “snatching away” is harpadzo, which means “to grasp and remove something violently.” I imagine God sort of reaching down like one of those claw machines at the arcade and just yanking Phillip up faster than a blink. I think there’s a tint of humor in how the Lord orchestrates the logistics of this whole story.
19. How does the Eunuch react when he comes up out of the water?
20. What might that tell us? (It gives a sense of the conversation and fellowship they had while travelling together. It shows how true his conversion and how close Phillip is to God.)
21. What are we supposed to make of this story? What do you get from it?
Phillip’s community and support system is scattered, yet he kept a close and powerful relationship with the Lord. One thing we can take from that is the reminder that our ability to serve God isn’t bound to the church building or even its people. We can still serve and experience God in miraculous ways even in the desert.
Obeying God’s leading can lead us to incredible opportunities.